California is in its 2nd year of a historical drought. Although,our state has naturally moved through cycles of drought and abundant rain, over the past many decades, its still disconcerting that we have not had a storm for a couple of months.
Gardeners, farmers and concerned citizens a like are taking drastic measures for conserving water from tearing out lawns to integrating water saving technology and even abstaining from planting their spring gardens. Unfortunately, the latter does little if anything, to actually conserve water. Those choosing to refrain from putting a garden in are generally still purchasing the same produce, they would be growing, from a supermarket. Big ag accounts for 70% of the world’s water use and much of that is wasted in inefficient practices. Some of those practices include overhead watering, washing produce before and after shipping, transporting food across state and international borders and disposing of food aesthetically not marketable.
With new emergency water conservation regulations, set by the State, Californians are feeling the need to not plant a garden. Yet, a home gardener and even a small-scale farmer can grow food efficiently, while using a minimum amount of water. Integrating simple solutions can make the difference between enjoying fresh garden veggies out of the garden or compromising for store bought. Consider heavy mulching, planting more drought tolerant varieties, experimenting with dry-farming, use smart watering strategies, reuse shower and cooking water to irrigate, use intensive planting practices and plant varieties with similar water needs together.
Eliminating weeds, may seems like gardeners’ protocol, but many gardeners also make peace with their weeds and use a more zen approach to plants that are in the wrong place. But the reality is that some weeds, like lambs quarters and crab grass, are responsible for consuming 80 gallons of water to create 1 pound of plant tissue – that is a staggering number! Integrating weed control with heavy mulching can go a long way in water conservation tactics, conserving as much as 1 inch of water per week.
By integrating low-tech water saving technology in homes, such as low flow showerheads and aerators and expanding that to the garden with low-flow watering wands, rain barrels and drip irrigation, saving water while having a thriving garden couldn’t be easier. Best of all California is offering a lot of financial incentives for water conservation.
With new rebate programs, homeowners can integrate solutions such as:
Laundry-to-landscape system components
- Rain barrel
- Pool covers
- Hot water recirculation systems
By growing your own food you can control the amount of water used and limit water waste. By doing a little research and some minor adjustments, gardeners can still grow an abundant garden year round! Best of all dry farming practices add more flavor while using drastically less water – what a concept Less water more flavor! All these simple practices can make a big difference in the bigger picture. It’s now all of our responsibilities to conserve every drop!
Printed in Pacific Horticulture Magazine
For More Information email info@LivingsSeedCompany.com
BUSINESS: Astrid and Matthew Hoffman began growing and selling heirloom seeds through their business, the Living Seed Company, in 2011. The former interior designer and puppeteer met at the Solstice Grove Institute in Nicasio, where they butted heads before teaming up.
Husband-and-wife team Matthew and Astrid Hoffman are seed farmers and distributors who live in a large house with bright blue siding that sits across the street from Marin Sun Farms in Point Reyes Station. Their home—which they rent from a longtime Point Reyes resident who helps them package seeds—is the base of operations for the Living Seed Company, the couple’s nascent seed-saving business, and during the busy packaging seasonthe whole house transforms into an office space strewn with seed packets and boxes filled with produce they’ve grown from the seeds they’ve saved, such as peppers and (surprisingly) watermelons.“It’s pretty much just Matthew and myself,” said Astrid, who ran an ecological interior design company in Santa Monica prior to launching the Living Seed Company. “We hired a designer to do our website and we bring on seasonal volunteers, but we’re the two more-than full-time people in the company.”
The Living Seed Company is a local seed growing and vending business and online retailer that the Hoffmans created in 2011 to support themselves as a family and to promote sustainable seed-saving practices. The company also runs seed-saving education workshops and donates seeds to schools, farmers markets, libraries, correctional facilities and community gardens.
At the operational level, Astrid is in charge of the company’s in-house responsibilities: day-to-day administration, accounting, marketing, public and vendor relations. Matthew oversees the entire seed production, which encompasses the half-acre backyard load and two larger sites at Black Mountain Ranch.
“We’re trying to find a way to live and farm here in West Marin,” said Matthew, who grew up farming with his family in rural Wisconsin and worked as a giant puppeteer for Puppet Farm Arts. “We’re a young company focused on the greater good for the Bay Area. It’s definitely a dream to be in Point Reyes. Farmers are heroes here.”
Aside from saving seeds from their local stock, the Hoffmans coordinate with other growers along the West Coast and with some in the Midwest. The couple selects sources from a cream-of-the-crop vendor list that was given to them by a mentor whom they met while attending a weeklong seed school.
“There is a very delicate dance between knowing what to stock and how to prepare for the growing season,” Matthew said. “We’re fortunate to know we have high-quality seeds. Not all seeds are grown in climates similar to ours. It’s like the food movement: know your seed farmer.”
Living Seed is one of many regional seed growing organizations that have signed the Council for Responsible Genetics’ Safe Seed Pledge, by which buyers and sellers agree they will not knowingly trade in genetically modified or engineered seeds. Founded in 1983, the nonprofit council conducts research on genetics issues and provides a network for the non-G.M.O. seed market.
“Too often the conversation is limited to whether G.M.O. products are safe or not,” said Jeremy Gruber, the president of the Cambridge-based council. “The truth is that we just don’t know. There have been a number of studies, but there have been no long-term studies done that look at the effects of G.M.O.s over many years. Unfortunately, we live in a country that allows G.M.O. proliferation while studies are still being done.”
High-profile G.M.O. corporations like Monsanto have attracted media attention by their fierce lobbying to control product labeling rights and make it harder for the general public to know whether or not their food has been genetically modified. Meanwhile, since the 80s and 90s, these companies have slowly swallowed up small bioregional seed companies and, in doing so, have greatly reduced seed varieties.
“After thousands of years of seed-saving practices, there has been a huge shrinkage of available seed stores,” said Matthew, who believes fewer seed varieties put communities at risk by the possibility of climate change wiping out one or two predominant strains. “The future is moving back to smaller food systems. Seed saving allows people to adapt their seeds to their environment, so that the seeds become more resilient. It’s a process that takes years, but it’s important for regional food security.”
Unlike companies that produce hybrid G.M.O. seeds, Living Seed only sells what are known as “heirloom” seeds. All heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, which means they grow to produce offspring similar to their parent plants. This practice plays a key role in seed-saving techniques that, according to the Hoffmans, could over time restore seed variety, resilience and security.
“The miracle of a seed is pretty wonderful,” Astrid said. “Even though we’ve lost a lot over the past century, the opportunity is still there to create new heirlooms. Seeds are such intelligent beings, aware of where they are and adapting constantly.”
Like the seeds they grow, the Hoffmans have also had to adapt to changing conditions. The two met at the Solstice Grove Institute Program, a long-term environmental residency in Nicasio, where the couple butted heads at first but eventually found themselves talking about marriage and raising a family. The couple hopes to one day teach their children how to grow seeds, keeping the cycle of seed farming alive in West Marin.
To date, the Hoffmans have financed Living Seed through a variety of their own funds and loans from family and friends. Now, the company is in the midst of a two-week Kickstarter campaign (which was chosen as staff pick by Kickstarter within five minutes after launching). The Hoffmans have until Dec. 17 to raise $15,000.
Funds raised will go toward updating the seed packet image and revamping the website’s shopping cart feature, as well as streamlining office functions so that both Hoffmans can spend more time growing and breeding local seeds.
To pledge to the Living Seed Company’s kickstarter campaign please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/livingseed/growing-a-delicious-beau…
Every week we are going to introduce a Seed of the Week, where we are going to select one seed to highlight. We will share the historical attributes, the story that makes this variety an heirloom and why we love it so much!
This unique, pretty cuke is prized by gourmet chefs for its delicate flavor and crisp flesh. Deriving its name from its yellow skin, shape and size. An old heirloom that is sure to still please the discriminating cucumber lover and is easy to digest.
This one is easy to grow, works well in containers, and is extremely productive. Best when harvested young. Great for slicing, salads, on sandwiches and makes delicious pickles!
Please meet … Lemon Cucumber
A perfect vegetable to plant now and enjoy towards the end of summer – a perfect time to cool with cucumber water or salad! Best of all? It’s on sale, for only $1.50 – time to eat cucumber
Denver Urban Gardens
The Living Seed Company believes everyone should have access to vital, pure, open-pollinated seed varieties and through their The Giving Seed Program, seed donations have been sent to Haiti, India, Africa, Europe, South America and throughout the United States.
Over the past three years, The Giving Seed Program has given away over 4,000 packets of fresh heirloom seeds to school garden programs, inner city youth programs, community gardens, seed libraries, food banks, correctional facilities, veteran programs and others. The Living Seed Company also covers the cost of shipping.
We take recommendations for seed donations, feel free to email us at info@LivingSeedCompany.com. Interested in donating to our program?
Donations can also be made by calling us at 415.663.8002 or by sending a check to:
The Living Seed Company
P.O. Box 177
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Women’s Earth Alliance Seed Donation India
The Giving Seed Program began with a vision to give back to our local, national and global community. We kicked it off with donating a collection for every ten collections sold.
Today, aside from giving away collections, we are also giving away individual packets suited to particular growing regions and community needs.
The Living Seed Company also gives out Basic Saving Booklets to encourage and support communities saving seeds and adapting them to their bio-regions.
A Few of our Donation Recipients
Inner City Coalition
- Seed Lending Library | Steamboat Springs, CO
- N.W. Regional Correctional Facility | McChord, WA
- Denver Urban Gardens | Denver, CO
- Mill Valley Seed Library | Mill Valley, CA
- Hunters Point Family Girls Program | San Francisco, CA
- The 4-H Auerfarm | Bloomfield, CT
- Youth Over the Rhine | Cincinnati, OH
- AgriCorps | San Jose, CA
- Opportunities Over the Rhine | Cincinnati, OH
- Capital District Community Gardens | Troy, NY
- Comida del Bosque | 4 Corners
- The Institue of Ag | Steamboat Springs, CO
- Huichol People | Mexico
- Idaho Plant a Row | Coeur d’Alene, ID
- Church Living Stone Baptist | Chesterfield, VA
- Alfred Community Garden | Alfred, NY
- San Quentin Correctional Facility | San Rafael, CA
- Alder Ave School | Egg Harbor Township, NJ
- The Neighborhood Farm Initiative | Washington DC
Thank you so much for your seed donation and for what your company is doing to save these valuable seeds. M. Fay
We are so appreciative of your generosity in choosing DUG as the recipient of a seed donation. Your donation means so much to the gardening community in Denver. Thank you! J. Romer
We are greatly appreciate your effort and helping us with the seeds program for Haiti. Again many thanks May God richly bless you. Pastor J. M. Etienne
Every month we are going to introduce a Seed of the Month, where we are going to select one seed to highlight. We will share the historical attributes, the story that makes this variety an heirloom and why we love it so much!
This stunningly beautiful vegetable is now sought after by chefs and home-cooks for its radiant colors, delicious taste and enhanced health benefits. Purple Carrots have been grown in since 900 A.D. in Afghanistan, Turkey and Middle East, but this incredible carrot was only Introduced in 2005. Dr. Philipp Simon and staff at the USDA in Madison, Wisconsin, bred a whole new spectrum of colored carrots, stay tuned for more of those varieties!
The Cosmic Purple Carrot adds a punch to any meal, whether enjoyed raw or cooked. Grate it in a salad or on the side, add some lime juice and relish in the crunch while enhancing your meal with a sweet spice!
Please meet Cosmic Purple Carrot …
An amazing colored carrot, Cosmic Purple on the outside and brilliant orange and yellow on the inside. A delicious sweet and spicy flavor that kids of all ages will love! This one is a favorite!
Purple has always been a sign of royalty and now purple vegetables are a sign of health. Rich in phytonutrients, this vegetable will add more than just beauty to your meal, it will enhance your overall well-being!
Written by: Kirsten Hudson for Organic Authority
Handed down through generations, heirloom seeds offer a taste of the past. Often described as “open pollinated” seeds that have a long history, heirloom seeds can make for a diverse and downright gorgeous, organic garden. Like a family keepsake, these seeds offer something precious. Once planted, they’ll bloom into a one-of-a-kind fruit, vegetable, herb or flower that hasn’t been tainted by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides.
Modern hybrids, which are created by crossing two selected varieties, often produce infertile plants. But heirlooms will yield the same plant year after year, which means you can always save the seeds for next year’s crop. Heirlooms also offer a connection with history. Essentially, you’ll be eating the same plump tomatoes that your ancestors enjoyed.
So, what else makes these vintage seeds inherently superior?
Many hybrid fruits and vegetables have been bred to produce more crop, or to resist certain diseases and insects. Unfortunately, these “features” often sacrifice taste in the process.
Plants from heirloom seeds weren’t designed to be carted across the country or hoarded in cold storage for weeks, like many commercially grown fruits and vegetables. Instead, heirlooms were carefully selected for their flavor. After all, who wants to go out to their backyard garden and pick a bunch of carrots that taste like cardboard?
And once you’ve tasted a juicy heirloom tomato, it’s unlikely you’ll ever think the same about a supermarket tomato again.
Amped up nutrition
With heirlooms, taste and nutrition go together. You can’t get much fresher than just picked-off-the-vine or pulled-from-the-dirt fruits and veggies—and that means maximum nutrition.
Hybrids, however, have been bred for certain traits—such as producing higher yields—that sacrifice nutritional content in the process. The traits that make carrots, potatoes and other produce uniform in size and faster growing can also mean a lower quality food.
Heirloom fruits and veggies come in an all-out medley of kooky shapes, colors and textures. From deep red carrots to wonky-shaped tomatoes to bright pink bananas, you just can’t get the same fun variety from hybrid fruits and vegetables.
Contribute to the cause
By choosing to plant heirloom seeds, you’re participating in a mission to diversify our food supply and preserve cultural history. As commercial growers increasingly opt to only plant a small variety of species, we’re losing genetic diversity in our seeds, and therefore our food. This can potentially compromise the nutritional value of our food, lead to issues with soil in farming and potential food blights. Couple that with the increasing GMOs introduced into our produce and it’s a potential recipe for disaster… convinced yet?
Want to take part in the tradition?
Several organizations offer GMO- and pesticide-free heirloom seeds. Browse their catalogs and get excited for this year’s garden!
Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson
This article was originally published on Organic Authority, an organic living online magazine. View the original article.
Want to have a garden, but don’t have the space? Fret not, container gardens are the solution to the woes of urbanites and farmers alike. Aside from having the ability to produce a significant amount of food within a limited space, container gardens allow you to have full control of what going into your soil. This could be an easy solution for folks that may not know their soil quality while also protecting your crops from soil-borne pests. The fact that your garden would be raised also helps with pesky garden critters. It is also a wonderful idea for students and other young people that move often and are hesitant to grow a garden that they will end up leaving the following year, they can simply take their garden with them!
Containers also solve the problem if your garden is lacking sunlight, if your containers are on castors, you can easily wheel them as they follow the sun. This type of gardening also knows no boundaries, literally. I have seen full-grown fig, lemon and an assortment of other fruit trees flourishing in wine barrels! The idea is to do a bit of research and give your plants the room and light they need to grow. Some vegetables may be compromised if their container is too shallow, such as deep setting root vegetables. This method of gardening allows you to grow food anywhere from your porch, to your balcony to the sidewalk and even your rooftop! Take advantage of the vertical space in your container and add trellises, teepees or wire cages.
It is a solution that allows for maximizing productivity and creativity …. containers can be upcycled from old basins, bath tubs, wheelbarrows, wagons, baskets, chairs, cinder blocks, you name it! The sky is the limit with what you can use to make your container garden out of. Best of all, the more unique the vessel, the more outrageous your garden will look! Some things to keep in mind when you are reusing pieces that have old paint on them, it may have lead and you will not want to use it. Also, another thing to keep in mind is to remember is to drill sufficient holes for drainage, if not you will drown your plants. It has been suggested to drill the holes 2″ up on the sides, instead of on the bottom – this allows for a extra moisture retention, just don’t over water your crops! Knowing how your pots hold or release water will also help you gauge the quantity of moisture necessary. There are solutions for self-watering, make sure you do sufficient research before you take off for the weekend! Depending on where you live will determine how moist/dry your vegetables will want to be, consult your local Extension office.
These types of gardens add dimension, texture, color and depth to a garden. You can specialize each container with specific vegetables or herbs. Perhaps using a few for companion planting vegetables and others create a medicinal, culinary and spice garden! Think of all the incredible things you enjoy eating and explore the possibilities of growing them, noting beats fresh food right out of the garden! Consider researching what plants do well together and which ones prefer to be at a distance. Take into account the amount of sunlight you have available and note to have a water source near-by, watering on a daily basis is key to a successful container garden. Our Urban Collection/Small Space Garden is geared for container gardens. These varieties thrive in variable light and space. When purchasing your seeds, always purchase them from a reliable source, check out our post on the Renaissance of Heirlooms to learn about why growing heirlooms and using open pollinated seeds is so important. Now is an ideal time to plant your heat loving crops, from seed, in order to enjoy a late summer and autumn harvesting! Take this opportunity and dig through your garage or attic, thrift-stores of curb side sales and create your container garden today!
Spring is in full bloom and your excited to get back into your garden or start your first one. You know you want to start your plants from seed, but not quite sure where to start. Commencing this venture with the finest seed is an essential part to the success of your garden and the quality of your fruit. Not all seed is the same, even if it is the same variety – not all seed houses preserve the genetics in the same manner. A lot of the organic seed sold at local nurseries is actually from China, so always call and ask your seed company where their seeds are grown. Also, if you plan on saving seed, which we highly recommend, then you want to make sure that you are not buying hybrid seeds. Take a look at our article on Heirlooms vs. Hybrids, it’s an excellent guide that will help you understand what the difference between an heirloom and a hybrid is. Always buy open-pollinated seeds.
For those of you that ordered our Living Seed Collections, you have already received them already and you are thrilled, but perhaps not quite sure where to start? Fret not, follow this simple step-by-step model and your seedlings will be growing in no time.
Choose what you want to grow your seedlings in, are they going into temporary pots where the seedling will be transferred to the ground later or will they be placed in containers where they will stay. If you are transplanting, consider some of the great biodegradable pots that are available. We have seen some made from coir, coconut husks, DIY newspaper, toilet paper rolls and even eggshells! Using a biodegradable medium will make the transplanting less traumatic for your seedling, if this isn’t an option, transplanting the seedling, will be discussed later.
Soil is the next key ingredient in the success of your garden. Remember this is the foundation of where your seeds are going to start. Don’t know why soil is so important? Check out my blog post on the importance of soil. Initially though, you will want to use a seed-starting mix and not potting soil. A mixture that has vermiculite, perlite and peat moss are all an excellent combination. This mix will facilitate with drainage and proper water retention. Fill pots 3/4 full of the seed starting mix.
Next is the most beautiful part, when you interact with the very seeds that are going to grow an abundance of food to sustain you and your loved ones. Read the growing instructions on the seed packet as some seeds have very specific needs and should be planted only during certain times of the year. Ideally you will not be starting your roots or deep-rooted vegetables in small containers with the intention of transplanting, as they do not like to be transplanted. If you follow the Moon cycles, ideally you will want to wait until the New Moon to plant your seeds. Know what the desired depth for planting is – air on less depth and do not compact the soil, this is a very common mistake. Lightly cover your seed with additional starting mix and give gratitude to the miracle that is about to happen.
Once you have set up your flats, generously water them and place them in a warm location (minimum of 50 degrees) the warmer it is the better their germination will be. While they are germinating, they do not need light, but they need to stay moist and warm. Remember the seed is a living an embryo that needs air to breath and water to awaken its state of slumber. Once they start to sprout, they will need a source of light, either natural light (south-facing) or a grow light, placed just above them. In either case, protect your vulnerable seedlings from drafts, pets and any other disturbances. Lack of light will cause your seedlings to become leggy, a phenomena by which the seedling is trying the reach the light and becomes tall and lanky causing them to become susceptible to the elements once transplanted.
Keeping the soil with a similar moisture level to that of a wrung out sponge is the ideal. Too much water will drown the seed or cause dampening off, which means there was a high level of moisture and heat which created fungal activity, both situations result in killing the seed or seedling. A watering-can usually offers an optimal spray with enough control. Should you forget to keep the soil moist, you may jeopardize your seedlings and their growth may be stunted or they may die. There is a sweet balance of presence that is required of your seedlings as they emerge from the soil and begin to grow their roots. Sometimes adding a plastic dome or even DIY yogurt cups for individual seeds can help keep moisture and heat in.
Once your seedlings have reached a recommended height, you will want to transplant them as soon as possible. A big mistake of young gardeners is leaving their starts too long in their transplant pots. Generally you will want to wait until your seedlings have 3 – 4 true leaves – refer to image below for a reference. Make sure your garden is ready to receive your seedlings and holes have been made and are ready to be occupied. If you have your seedlings in plastic 6-packs or non-biodegradable pots, you will want to disturb the roots as little as possible. Turn it on its side and gently tap. Always hold the seedling by its true leave and never from the stem or roots.
Make sure you acclimate your seedlings to the elements, a term known as hardening off. This can either be done by leaving them in a sheltered place for a few hours during the day, over several days. If you have a cold frame, you can use that as an ideal way to transition your starts from the comfort of your home to the garden. Once they have fully hardened off they will be strong and ready to be planted in your garden. Take a look at the diagram, to the left, for an ideal way to plant your seedlings. Best to transplant towards the end of the day or on a cloudy day, this gives your plants enough energy to recuperate from the shock without having to be in the mid-day sun.
Continue to nurture your garden with water, regular compost and amendments. Observation is a meditative part of being in the garden that also informs you if your plants need certain attention. Read local gardening blogs and how-to books to guide you on this beautiful journey. Prepare for the abundance and enjoy the harvest!